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Spotlight on Paul Fisher: Translating molecules into lifesaving cancer treatments

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Paul Fisher, M.Ph., Ph.D., FNAI

VCU Massey Cancer Center researcher Paul B. Fisher, M.Ph., Ph.D., FNAI, member of the Cancer Biology research program and Thelma Newmeyer Corman Endowed Chair in Oncology Research at Massey, examines the molecular and biochemical basis of cancer development and metastasis in an effort to translate the science into novel cancer therapies.

Fisher founded the VCU Institute of Molecular Medicine (VIMM) at the VCU School of Medicine and has served as its director since he joined VCU in 2008. He also co-founded the Cancer Molecular Genetics research program at Massey and co-led it as program leader for nine years. Additionally, Fisher is the chair of and professor in the Department of Human and Molecular Genetics at the VCU School of Medicine.

His extensive research has centered on developing innovative approaches for simultaneously imaging and treating cancer (“theranostics”), engineering cancer selective therapeutic viruses (Cancer Terminator Viruses: CTVs), novel delivery approaches for therapeutic reagents, including viruses and proteins, using microbubbles and ultrasound (UTMD) and creating small molecules targeting cancer-promoting genes and signaling pathways identified in his laboratory.

Fisher has several innovative research projects currently underway at the VIMM. He has developed therapeutic CTVs that are effective in cancer, including a novel virus (Ad.5/3-CTV) injection protocol that has shown success in treating glioma in animal models that Fisher hopes to translate into clinical trials in humans.

Through his work using a process called subtraction hybridization, Fisher discovered that Mda-9/Syntenin is a gene that is overactive in multiple human cancers that enhances their ability to invade normal tissue and spread to multiple regions in the body. He identified small molecule drugs that successfully destroy tumor cells and prevent metastasis in combination with chemotherapy in preclinical models. This research is being supported through the Molecules to Medicine drug development program at Massey. Within the next year, Fisher hopes to test this molecule in clinical trials as well.

In collaboration with Devanand Sarkar, M.B.B.S., Ph.D, who holds the Harrison Foundation Distinguished Professorship in Cancer Research and serves as the associate director for education and training at Massey and associate director of cancer therapeutics at VIMM, Fisher received a five-year R01 grant to study a potential combinatorial therapy for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) focusing on blocking two relevant HCC genes initially identified in the Fisher laboratory: AEG-1 and MDA-9/Syntenin. 

Fisher and Shawn Wang, Ph.D., who holds the Mary Anderson Harrison Distinguished Professorship in Cancer Research and serves as co-leader of the Developmental Therapeutics research program at Massey and is associate director of immunology at VIMM, recently received an outstanding score on a multi-principal investigator five-year NIH/NCI grant to study mechanisms of prostate cancer bone metastasis and approaches to prevent and treat this disease. Based on the percentile ranking, which was 3%, this award will likely be funded in April 2021.

With Umesh Desai, PhD., chair of the Department of Medicinal Chemistry at the VCU School of Pharmacy and member of the Developmental Therapeutics program at Massey and the VIMM, and James Lister, Ph.D., member of the Cancer Biology research program at Massey, Fisher received a grant from the Commonwealth Health Research Board to identify small molecule drugs targeting MDA-9/Syntenin to prevent and treat cancer metastasis.

Fisher was also awarded funding through the VCU Commercialization Fund for research to investigate a protein he discovered that facilitates replication of the novel coronavirus and the cytokine storm. Blocking the function of this protein can prohibit replication of the virus and potentially serve as an effective therapy against COVID-19. Through a collaboration with Desai, in silico design is being used to identify potential inhibitory small molecules, which will be synthesized and evaluated for bioactivity against SARS-CoV-2 with colleagues at the University of South Alabama.

“I’m really excited about discovering and understanding how molecules control complex biological processes,” Fisher said. “Seeing our molecules translate into lifesaving cancer treatment is a major accomplishment and the most rewarding part of my work.”

Written by: Massey Communications Office

Posted on: December 8, 2020

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